Four candidates face off to be first new Miami-Dade District 10 Commissioner in three decades

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For the first time in almost 30 years, voters in Miami-Dade County’s District 10 will go to the polls Tuesday and not be able to cast a vote for Commissioner Javier Souto.

A longtime County Commissioner who previously served in both chambers of the Legislature, Souto has been a staple of local and state politics since before the American launch of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. But due to term limits voters approved in 2012, he and several others on the dais have to go by November.

District 10 covers a center-north portion of Miami-Dade, wholly composed of unincorporated neighborhoods, including portions of Fontainebleau, Kendall, Sunset and Westchester. Its lack of municipalities places a heavy responsibility on the Commissioner who represents it, since the county alone provides services to residents.

Four candidates are vying to succeed Souto in the technically nonpartisan contest: state Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, West Kendall Community Council Chair Martha Bueno, former federal agent Susan Khoury and small business owner Julio Sanchez.

In terms of money, endorsements and support from local and state politicians, Rodriguez holds a significant advantage. The Republican lawmaker has raised $1.65 million since announcing in June 2021 that he would forgo seeking a third term in the House for a run at the County Commission.

The owner of Florida Advanced Properties, a property management company for condo associations, Rodriguez accepted numerous five-figure donations from real estate companies.

He spent $968,000 of those gains through mid-August but still had $920,670 remaining, thanks to carryover funds in his political committee, A Bolder Florida, from his House campaigns.

Rodriguez’s campaign priorities include fighting state preemption of Miami-Dade’s control of five tollways under MDX, a county agency Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature tried to dissolve and replace in 2019. Lawsuits have tied up the issue for years.

His campaign website says he also prioritizes eliminating tax and regulatory strains on businesses, parental rights in education, alleviating traffic, reducing tolls, improving public safety and adding to the county’s affordable housing index.

Despite his friendly relationship with several Florida GOP standouts, including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Sen.-elect Bryan Ávila, future House Speaker Daniel Perez and Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez — all of whom donated to his campaign this cycle — Rodriguez received no formal endorsements from any of them.

He did, however, get nods from the Hispanic Police Officers Association, South Florida Police Benevolent Association, South Florida Council of Firefighters, Metro-Dade Firefighters Local 1403 and the Latin Builders Association.

Bueno, who like Rodriguez was born and raised in Miami, is a real estate agent, hemp farmer and former online supplements seller in private life. She’s also a vocal advocate for marijuana decriminalization and registered as an independent, though she identifies as a Libertarian and was the former Vice President of the Libertarian Party of Miami-Dade.

For years, she has served as an elected member of the West Kendall Community Council and Zoning Appeals Board. In something akin to a game of musical chairs, two of the Council’s other members, Ashley Alvarez and Jose Soto, are competing for the House District 118 seat Rodriguez is vacating.

Since filing to run for District 10 in February 2021, Bueno has raised more than $96,000 through her campaign account and political committee, Bueno for Miami. She had $39,000 left by mid-August after covering advertising and consulting costs.

In a November interview with Florida Politics, Bueno described herself as “an activist who simply got frustrated” with what she described as a business-as-usual approach to government from Miami-Dade Commissioners.

She believes in less government regulation and lower property taxes. She said the County Commission has steadily absorbed power over the years from other local entities. Concentrating so many powers and responsibilities into one governmental body is a bad thing, she said, considering how little time — two minutes per person — the Commission gives residents to speak on issues for which they sometimes take days off of work to advocate.

Bueno’s approach to fundraising and campaigning has, at times, been unconventional. In July, she opened page on OnlyFans, a website that allows adult users to pay other adults for access to their (often sexual) content.

The page Bueno created does not contain any explicit content. Rather, it features humorous videos promoting her campaign and taunting Rodriguez. She told the Miami Herald this month she has made roughly $500 from the site, adding, “I’m running a campaign that competes with $1.3 million without having to sell myself to corporate donors.”

In recent months, Rodriguez has been a frequent target of Bueno’s. She called him out in early August for canvassing for Democratic Miami-Dade Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins. Bueno noted Cohen Higgins has been endorsed by reproductive rights group Ruth’s List Florida, which she described as an organization that “only endorses candidates who believe in late-stage abortions.” And on Aug. 10, Bueno posted a video to her Facebook page referring to Rodriguez as a “RINO” (Republican in name only).

The two Democrats in the race, Khoury and Sanchez, also proved the weakest fundraisers, with Khoury raising $2,500 since filing to run in June and Sanchez collecting less than half that over roughly the same timeframe.

Born in Israel, Khoury retired as a former special agent with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2002.

Khoury was part of a recent, successful effort to bring back a county police oversight board following nationwide protests over police brutality and racism. She told the Herald she decided to run for office after years of improper treatment by police that resulted in a federal jury awarding her $520,000 in May.

If elected, she said she will work to turn over Miami-Dade’s law enforcement duties to a revived Sheriff’s Office coming in 2024. Those duties now lay under the purview of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who serves as the county’s de facto Sheriff and oversees an appointed Police Chief.

The County Commission recently voted to bifurcate its law enforcement responsibilities and powers, giving the incoming Sheriff jurisdiction over the county’s 34 municipalities while retaining for the Miami-Dade Police Department jurisdiction over its unincorporated areas.

That decision drew a lawsuit this month from the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

Her campaign platform also prioritizes steps to address countywide flooding, expand the Miami-Dade Metrorail, push state lawmakers to fix Florida’s imperiled homeowners insurance market, temporarily freeze rent increases, require residential builders to include a minimum percentage of affordable units in their projects, retrain police to deescalate potentially violent interactions, curb gun violence, promote social justice and create pathways for dignified retirement and equitable health care services.

Sanchez is hoping the second time’s the charm in running for the County Commission. He ran against Souto in 2018, finishing last among five candidates.

He’s done little campaigning with the meager funding he has, which through mid-August covered a $360 filing fee with the Miami-Dade Elections Department and $260 worth of campaign signs.

He has no website. If elected, he told the Herald he would work to address traffic congestion in the area.

The Miami-Dade Commission District 10 election on Aug. 23 is nonpartisan and open to all eligible voters in the district, regardless of party affiliation. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a Nov. 8 runoff.

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